Visvamitrasana requires flexibility, strength, a strong foundation in alignment actions, and a steady mind. For starters. It's a really challenging pose. At a glance, some people may not even know where to begin to attempt this one.
Lots of hand balancing poses like this one are named after sages. I find it interesting and very reverent that some of the most challenging and interesting asanas take the names after maharishis. This pose, Visvamitrasana, translates to "The Pose Dedicated to Visvamitra."
Visvamitra was a king, and while touring his kingdom he comes to the hermitage of the sageVasistha (there's a pose dedicated to him as well). Vasistha invites the king Visvamitra in, and is served an incredible banquet that is beyond anything the king has ever seen.
So surprised and impressed by the lavish display, he asks Vasistha how he could afford such a thing, being a sage out in a hermitage.
Vasistha explained to the king that he was bestowed a gift of a magical cow from Lord Indra himself, and this cow could provide him with anything he asked for.
This news made the king suuuuuper jelly. Why should a sage have such a magical gift, when this is worthy of a king? The king then offered Vasistha all the riches he had on him in exchange for Nandini, the magical bovine goddess. When Vasistha refused the offers, Visvamitra and his army of men try to take her by force. She (Nandini) then reared herself up onto her hind legs, and from her belly she shot out different tribes of warriors to fight off, and ultimately, defeat Visvimitra by killing all of his men and his very own sons. Being stripped so raw, Visvamitra stripped himself from his own title as king, renounced whatever he had left, and went off into isolation as a penance. You'd think that sounds honorable, but...
After a while of ruminating over the loss of everything he ever cared for, in isolation, he decided to seek revenge in the most ultimate way upon Vasistha: he would become an even greater sage than him. Well... there is a thing called karma, and his heart was not aligned with the best of intentions, so that ended badly and he got stripped down again, and again, and again. His ego kept getting in the way. It took lots of tries, and I wonder if those days of feeling defeated reminded him of the other days of defeat.
After many trials of starting and failing, relapsing back into his old egotistical self, and starting over again and again, he finally, finally was able to strip away his ego and achieved the title of Brahmarishi, and was bestowed that honor by none other than his old frenemy, but eventual pal, Vasistha himself. Visvamitra also went on to write part of the Rig Veda --and get this-- the Gayatri Mantra! (I provided a video of this mantra for you to listen below.)
As I was saying, this pose isn't often achieved quickly, which is why you may not find it in your usual drop-in yoga class. You have to piece together Vasistha's pose with bound arm elements, a crazy-angled Vira II back foot, get the hamstring and hip flexibility ready, and twist. Oh, and breathe. That's a potpourri of areas to work on. Can you get there in 75 minutes? You might fall, and fall again, and again, but you know what though? You'll learn what you did, or forgot to do, that made it work or not, and then you get back up and try again. And then you rest and self-care and reflect, and go back in again. And you watch yourself and you watch your mind: where does it go when you fall? Where was it just before? Was there possibly a thought during the fall? Was all of it a reaction or was it a response?
Oh yes, it's a humbling pose. I don't offer it to my students because I think they're going to nail it on try #1. The purpose here might be that I'm here to present you with obstacle and not give food to your ego. I break down those elements, because it is in our breaks and in our falls that teach us about the pieces that come from them. And when we see those pieces, we can bring them back together, in our own design, to manifest an even greater version of ourSelves.
Advanced poses do not offer new concepts: most of the advanced syllabus is actually just combinations of basic and intermediate postures pieced together in creative ways. Since this is the first of many blogs, I would like to use this as an opportunity to give you sequences that are pieces of postures that can lead you up into these more advanced places. As you advance through life, you might find that you have been prepared with smaller challenges throughout that have given you pearls of wisdom that you can string together in the right way so that it's some good medicine.
It is from the pieces of Visvamitrasana that this sequence comes to build you into the pose dedicated to the great sage, Visvamitra:
Surya A's with long-held cobras and locusts, and
Surya A combinations including pulling knee up to chest in AMS (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and plank to warm up core
Vira II, Vira II with hands bound and bowing to inner thigh, Vira II with arms bound
Prasarita Padottanasana A-D
Vakra Tundaya (the twisted trunk pose) - can work on bird of paradise here
EPRK (eka pada raja kapotasana), Parvrtta EPRK, AMS's in between
Vasisthasana: The pose dedicated to Vasistha
Eka Pada Koundyasana "drills"
Eka Pada Koundyasana II
Parvrtta Janu Sirsasana
Parvrtta Janu Sirsasana where the bent knee is in virasana
Baby Visvamitrasana: from kneeling
Visvamitrasana transition to Koundyanana II, take that wherever you can go...
Balasana, walk your hands over and stretch out each side
Enjoy what I think is the most delightful version of Gayatri Mantra here: